With the 1977 release of Live: P-Funk Earth Tour, funk legends Parliament jumped into the landslide of live albums, and tried to capture their incredible show on record. Parliament were a spectacular live act in both sight and sound, and this album does its best to bring that live experience into living rooms. For the most part, the two-record set succeeds.
The history of visionary musician and band leader George Clinton has more chapters to it than we can get into, but by the mid-’70s, both Parliament and Funkadelic, his two bands, were riding high. While Funkadelic often showed off Clinton’s more trippy rock and roll side, Parliament were sharp, fresh funk at its finest. Along with the supreme funk was a stage show and concert presentation unlike any other. Parliament somewhat made Kiss shows look like a county fair by comparison.
Coincidentally, Parliament shared a home with Kiss at Casablanca Records, and with the full backing of the label, Clinton was given free the resources to present these elaborate concerts. His Mothership motif quite literally became center stage, as Clinton would emerge from the otherworldly contraption in the guise of Dr. Funkenstein.
Live: P-Funk Earth Tour was compiled from concerts performed in January 1977 at the Oakland Coliseum and the Los Angeles Forum. But Clinton barely got to the stage on time.
“I can remember getting there in the afternoon on the day of the show and watching them set up the spaceship,” recalled Clinton in WaxPoetics. “And I fell asleep under the bleachers! And when I woke up the show was on. The show was on. Scared the s— out me, I was goin’ be late! Got in the costume and was there just as my turn came on. Bootsy [Collins] was on when I woke up.”
There was a smaller Mothership used in the shows as well, that would shoot fireworks as it sailed over the audience during the show. “That flew over the crowd’s heads in the coliseums,” Clinton told Nuvo in 2016. “Then it would disappear and the big one would descend. They worked in conjunction. But I got scared about using the little one because it was flying over people’s heads and I didn’t want it to fall on anybody. … It was a liability and I got paranoid so we stopped using it.”
Spectacle aside, we wouldn’t be talking about this if the music wasn’t front and center, and it most certainly is. “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” kicks things off and despite the lack of visuals, the band is smokin’ hot. Things build throughout the song until it’s full-on funk. “Do That Stuff” and “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” are highlights, while “The Landing (Of the Holy Mothership)” is a brief interlude in the live action. Modeled after the novelty records of Dickie Goodman, it features clips from various Parliament records as responses to a “news reporter” talking to fans.
The 15 minute workout of “Dr. Funkenstein” allows the band to stretch out, never losing the groove, while “Night of the Thumpasorus People” shows them at their fiercest. Horn players Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, both veterans of James Brown‘s band, guitarists Garry Shider and Eddie Hazel, keyboardist Bernie Worrell and bass man supreme, Bootsy Collins are but a few of the stars that shine here.
Though it was impossible to fully capture the concert experience, and the overall mix is less than razor sharp, Live P- Funk Earth Tour is a high energy snapshot of this great band in top form.